State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman was quoted Wednesday as telling his staff members that under his leadership, there would be no corruption probes such as the one that ended with Sara Netanyahu’s conviction two months ago.
Englman, who was appointed four months ago, has since been reported to be planning to scale back the office’s probes into public corruption and focus on the post’s traditional and uncontroversial role as the polite internal critic of the state bureaucracy.
The new plans include closing the department in the comptroller’s office responsible for corruption investigations, as well as the introduction of positive feedback into reports on state bodies.
On Wednesday, Channel 13 reported that during a tour of the comptroller’s office to get to know the employees, Englman told the worker who had penned the original report of Netanyahu’s misuse of state funds: “Under me there will be no report such as the catered meals report.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was convicted in June of taking unfair advantage of a mistake, after confessing to the offense as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations of illegally procured catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but confess to the lesser charge and pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210). Last year, she and Ezra Saidoff, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence, were charged with fraud and breach of trust for spending $100,000 of state funds on catered meals while there was a full-time chef on staff.
The criminal case was initially kicked off by a comptroller’s report recommending a police investigation into that and other alleged corruption at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Englman, an accountant by training and former education executive who ran the prestigious Technion institute of technology and the state’s top university regulator, the Council for Higher Education, was sworn in to the job on July 1. He is the first comptroller in three decades who is not a former judge.
His appointment, passed by the Knesset in June with the backing of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, came in the wake of two comptrollers, Micha Lindenstrauss and Yosef Shapira, who transformed the post into a key corruption watchdog — drawing praise from non-governmental watchdog groups, but also criticism from some politicians and officials for expanding the role of the office.
The State Comptroller’s Office, which is also the government’s office for public complaints, serves under the aegis of the Knesset and has authority to examine all agencies of government, even the most secretive. In part due to Lindenstrauss’s efforts, the agency has grown in recent years into a significant oversight body with hundreds of attorneys and accountants whose reports often lead to administrative and policy changes.
Engleman has been accused of being installed in the position in order to help Netanyahu. One of his first moves in office was to overhaul the Permits Committee, which had refused requests from Netanyahu to fund his legal defense with money from his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky.